Three strong earthquakes and several aftershocks jolted western Iran overnight, killing at least 66 people and injuring about 1,200 others, state television reported today.
The initial quake of magnitude 4.7 struck a mountainous region in western Iran late yesterday. It was followed by a quake of magnitude 5.1 that struck Boroujerd and Doroud, two industrial cities in western Iran.
A third quake of magnitude 6.0 hit Doroud and surrounding villages.
A total of 66 bodies had been recovered from houses in destroyed in Silakhor, a region north of Doroud.
The provincial head of the Unexpected Disaster Committee, Ali Barani, said no fewer than 200 villages were damaged, and some were flattened.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, visiting the UK, expressed her "deep sympathy" to the Iranians hit by the earthquake and offered US assistance. The US military provided aid to the residents of Bam after the south Iranian city was devastated by an earthquake in 2003.
Most of the 1,200 people injured had been in bed when the quake struck.
After the first quake struck, police in the city of Boroujerd and the town of Doroud toured the streets with loudspeakers urging people to leave their homes for fear of subsequent tremors.
The measure is thought to have contributed to a lower death toll than is usual in Iran for quakes of this magnitude.
The quake in the middle of the night caused panic, with citizens in Doroud running out of their homes. Many spent the night in open space, residents said.
"We are afraid to get back home. I spent the night with my family and guests in open space last night," said Doroud resident Mahmoud Chaharmiri.
Twelve aftershocks were registered after the first quake, said Nabi Bidhendi, the head of Tehran Tehran University's Geophysics Institute.
Such quakes have killed thousands of people in the past in the countryside where houses are often built of mud bricks, but initial reports suggested the devastation had not been so widespread this time, Chaharmiri said.
The epicentre of last night's quake was in the mountains south of Boroujerd and north of Doroud.
Disaster official Barani told the official Islamic Republic News Agency that rescue teams had been sent to the region to help the survivors. He said survivors were in urgent need of blankets, tents and food.
First television images of the quake showed survivors standing next to their destroyed houses in villages north of Doroud. The television also showed dozens of sheep and goats killed by the quake.
Barani said hospitals in the cities of Doroud and Boroujerd were full to their capacity and could not receive further injured.
Officials recalled doctors and nurses from vacation to help treat the injured. Iranians are celebrating Nowruz, or new year, and most government offices are closed and their staff on holiday.
Iran is located on seismic fault lines and is prone to earthquakes. It experiences at least one slight earthquake every day on average.Reuse content